Americans Being Imprisoned Because They Can’t Afford to Pay Traffic Tickets


Joe Harris | Courthouse News Service

ST. LOUIS (CN) — The City of Jennings, which borders Ferguson, Mo., will pay $4.7 million to 2,000 mostly poor, black residents to settle a class action that claimed the city jailed them for unpaid court debts.

The plaintiffs claimed in the class action filed in February 2015 that Jennings ran a debtor’s prison, that they were jailed because they couldn’t afford to pay fines, mostly from minor offenses such as traffic tickets.

A similar class action was filed against Ferguson the same day.

That case is tentatively scheduled for trial in July 2017.

The Jennings settlement is the highest daily rate of compensation reached in a settlement with a U.S. municipality to resolve incarceration practices of this kind, the Washington Post reported.

U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson gave the settlement preliminary approval on Wednesday. A hearing on final approval is set for Dec. 14.

The class actions stemmed from the unrest sparked by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014.

Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white.

The shooting sparked months of often violent protests and brought the topics of racism and excessive police force into the national conversation.

One of the main complaints from protestors was against the dozens of municipalities in the north St. Louis County region who they claimed excessively targeted and fined them, which fueled the anger following the Brown shooting.

About 81 of 90 municipalities near St. Louis run their own courts, which with St. Louis County collected nearly half of $132 million in fines paid by Missourians, a 2014 study found, despite the area being home to fewer than 1 in 4 state residents, according to the Post.

Published by Courthouse News Service.